Teaching Pointillism to High School Art Students

Pointillism is a fascinating technique that allows you to teach your students about nineteenth-century artistic creativity.
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Pointillism is a painting technique that involves building up successive layers of small dots of color that are then blended by the human eye into one color. Including Pointillism in your lesson plans for a high school art class can stimulate your students and encourage their appreciation of artistic innovations during the nineteenth century. Understanding the significance of Pointillism and how to demonstrate the technique in your classroom can help you develop a lesson plan that is both educational and exciting.

1 Artistic Background

You can discuss with your students Pointillism's origins in the late nineteenth century, when artists began experimenting with different brushstrokes while incorporating their artistic understanding of how colors work together to create other colors. Georges Seurat, a leading member of the Neo-Impressionist movement, pioneered the Pointillist technique, which proved very arduous, not only because it required precision at the canvas's surface, but also because it was very time consuming, as each layer of painted points had to dry completely before the next could be applied. The result of this technique, however, as exemplified in his iconic painting, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, reveals how those layers of dots come together to form fields of color.

2 Reinforcing the Technique

You can reinforce your discussion with additional images of Pointillist works by Seurat and other notable Pointillists, including Paul Signac or Théo van Rysselberg, as well as more contemporary Pointillists, such as Alma Thomas, either in books or a slide show. You could also organize a field trip to a local museum so your students can experience them firsthand. If a museum visit is not possible, you can also use museum educational resources to amplify your discussion.

3 Technique Demonstrations

For lower-level high school art students or to simply introduce the technique to your class, you can introduce the method using cotton swabs and watercolor or tempera paints. For advanced students’ final projects, you can have them work with oil paints and fine-tipped brushes. However, you must keep in mind that this traditional technique requires a significant time commitment. Having your students work with colored pencils, conté crayon, markers or ink can also help them achieve more refined compositions.

4 Technique Applications

You can have your students apply these Pointillist techniques by choosing an intricate work, such as Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte or a painting done in a different technique, and dividing it into sections and assigning each of your students to recreate one section. Another creative option would be to have your students recreate their favorite photo using the Pointillist technique in the medium you select.

Teresa J. Siskin has been a researcher, writer and editor since 2009. She holds a doctorate in art history.